I was faffing about on the Twitter back in January when SF author Ken MacLeod retweeted a message about 20 Years Later, the debut novel from EJ Newman. I hadn’t come across her work previously, but a quick look at her website told me I had to get in touch to find out more, as her creative output puts mine to shame! She found time in her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her debut novel (a mystery set in post-apocalyptic London), current projects (Split Worlds, which involves producing a new story every week for a year and a day) and supporting local bookshops.
“I’m often asked what it is about dystopian novels that grabs the YA reader’s imagination, and I always like to point out this is nothing new – every generation post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels have a surge in popularity. When I was growing up it was The Tripods and Empty World (that was the first post-apocalyptic novel I read) and there’s the perennial appeal of the books 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 for example. The only different today is that the “YA market” has been explicitly defined in a way it wasn’t the last time this sub-genre was popular.
That aside, the reason it keeps being popular is quite simple I think; dystopian fiction explores problems and threats that already exist all around us, but writ large. In most dystopian fiction the reader is given a hero who resists the system, who wants to fight despite how dangerous it is – thereby enabling us to live out our own fantasies vicariously. When I was a teen, I was constantly furious at adults who were simply ignoring terrible things going on in the world. In dystopian fiction, the heroes actually do something about it.